[hackerspaces] hackerspace demographics

Lisha Sterling lishevita at gmail.com
Thu Jan 17 00:41:41 CET 2013

Sorry for the delay in response from me directly. Yesterday I was in
transit and, while I was able to read the emails on my phone at the Newark
airport, I didn't feel like writing a response on the phone.

I'd like to say thank you to Michel Gallant for making me laugh out loud
and hoot, "You tell 'em" in the food court at the airport. :)

Matt, yes, this may have come off as annoying to you, but I hope that
you'll understand that some piece of Michel's response hit the spot. One of
the reasons that women get sick of dealing with the issues of "feminism"
and "inclusion of women" is that we explain what the problem is and then
have to re-explain along with thorough defenses for each position we have
taken. Your response to me put me in exactly that situation.

Sam Ley gave as good an answer to your questions as I could probably put
forward myself when he said,
"Regarding shared interests: Hackerspaces, almost by definition, have very
wide interest levels, and theoretically, new interests among active members
is taken as an opportunity to learn something new, not an "outside"
activity to be scorned. Knitting is a form of making that is very practical
and interesting, involves math and patterns, and is connected to a long
history of craftsmanship. If you didn't already know that the hobby is
mostly women, you'd assume that most hackerspace types would be interested
in learning how to do it, in the same way they happily take up
microcontrollers, bicycles, etc. Why would a group that tends to think of
an opportunity to learn a new making skill as a good thing all of a sudden
think it was a bad thing?"

The only thing that I can add to that is to say that I did state in my
original story that the knitting club had been a sort of gateway drug for a
number of women to get involved with the hackerspace beyond just the
knitting and that the bad blood around the issue of knitting not being
"real hacking" and other such derogatory statements led to those same women
*leaving* the hackerspace. (Luckily, at least some of them left *that*
hackerspace, but not the community as a whole, as I also stated in my
previous email.)

Interestingly, I watched the Queer Geeks Panel at CCCongress from 2011
yesterday which touched on many of the same issues. There was even a
specific reference to how sometimes exclusion comes in the form of spaces
declaring that some forms of hacking/making aren't "real hacking" because
only woodwork and soldering and software are real hacking. The conversation
is well worth a watch or listen if you haven't checked it out already.

- Lisha
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